Advent, Day 16: Notes from the Deck of Adventuress, Part 2

Dear readers,
 The Maine for an adventure a day, each day of this advent season — big or small, by land or sea, with friends or solo, in image or word, exuberant or contemplative, real or conceptual. We live in a state of wonder, its wide open spaces anticipating our
hope and joy.

On the fourth day of advent we posted part one of Michael Norgang’s journey south aboard the ADVENTURESS. Today his journey continues!

The sun is warm and the breeze fresh here in Bermuda. ADVENTURESS and her crew slipped between the coral heads and made landfall last Sunday, the 18th of November. Although I have had many exciting experiences here in the past few days, I thought it might be fun to describe the sail here, as well as some of the mechanics of an offshore passage, for those of you who might be curious how one sails a large, gaff-rigged schooner 600 miles across the Gulf Stream.

ADVENTURESS left Newport, RI Wednesday, November 14th around noon under trysail, foresail, staysail and jib. For those unaware, a trysail is a triangular sail that is loose footed, meaning it is not attached to a spar or boom along the foot of the sail. A trysail is generally used off the wind, i.e. any point of sail across or down wind, in heavy air, or in rough weather. The trysail is useful in these conditions because it has a small sail area that prevents it from overpowering the boat, and because it can be set or struck, meaning raised or lowered underway, without having to round up, or steer into the wind. This is a great advantage off-shore where you depend on your momentum to counter the force of wind and the sea state around you.

As we left Newport, the weather was cold with strong winds of 25-30 knots from the northeast. These were considered favorable winds because our course heading, or direction of sail, was south by southwest. With the advantage of wind behind her, ADVENTURESS surged out of coastal Narragansett Bay at a clip of about 8 knots.

As we moved off-shore, the crew began to settle in to a watch schedule. A watch schedule is set up so some of the crew can sleep or eat while the “on” watch crew manages the boat. Traditional watches are set up in four hour shifts. This is why a ship’s bell rings “eight bells”, one bell every half hour of a four hour watch. When you hear “eight bells,” your watch is complete and you know to retire below. Because we had six crew, we broke up into two watches, watch 1 and watch 2. Each watch had a watch captain who was in charge and would make the call if anything major was to arise. We also broke the watch schedule into 4 three hour watches at night, and 3 four hour watches during the day. This was done for two reasons: it allowed the late night watch less time on deck which combated fatigue and gave crew a break from the cold, and, it meant that in a twenty four hour period you never stood the same watch slot twice. The watch you stood would roll back and forth and everyone would get to see a sunrise and sunset, rather than always having the same unfavorable watch. Believe me, some slots are better than others.

As the miles began to slide by and the crew settled into their routine, I began to appreciate all that goes on while underway. A watch requires from its crew much more than its name entails. As one watch grows near to close, an on-deck crew member generally goes below and gives the crew a one bell warning, thirty minutes ’til on deck. The same crew member, if he is feeling generous, might also put the kettle on, making the coffee process all the quicker. The one bell warning signals my least favorite part of a watch. Waking up after what feels like a moment’s sleep is not awesome, but once out of bed, I would pour a pot of coffee and start layering wool and safety equipment around my body.

All crew members when on deck wear an inflatable deck vest that has an attached safety harness and clip line. On deck there is a stretchy webbing strap that runs low along the deck from the tip of the boat to the stern. This is called a jack line. Any time you are on deck you clip in to the jack line and go about your business.

Once I am on deck brimming with caffeine and enthusiasm, at say, four o’clock in the morning, I am ready to stand my watch. My watch developed its own rhythm when on deck. The three of us traded steering, each manning the helm for an hour if it was a three hour watch, or an hour and twenty minutes if a four. While one of us steered, the other two would occupy their time by making regular sweeps up and down the deck about every hour. This was done to make sure nothing was coming loose, sails were trimmed properly and no chafe was occurring. I would also make sure that the decks were clear of tripping hazards and that no lines had been swept overboard and were trailing in the water. All these things are important, as is the act of checking up on them, if only to keep myself alert and warm.

Also, regular checks of the engine room were scheduled on the hour when motoring. Engine gauges, temp, oil pressure and so on were noted and a visual inspection done to make sure no fluids were leaking or belts flapping. All of these acts, both on deck and below, are then noted in the log book twice a watch. Wind direction, speed, position and weather are also recorded, and if I was given the opportunity, something slightly offensive would be recorded as well for the next watch to enjoy.

At the sweet sound of eight bells I would retire below, usually eat something, and jump in my rack to try to get as much sleep as I could, only to rise three hours later and do it all over again. Our passage was only four days; I can’t help but imagine the days of old when this could go on indefinitely. “It’s a sailor’s life for me.”

Love to you all,

Michael Norgang